Sunday, July 28, 2013

The 'Rithmetic of Reading and Writing


Most of the time I don't know what's going to happen in a story I'm writing until I've written each scene. As I write, it's like cleaning a dirty window. The view is constantly improving, until there's no longer any notion of glass separating fiction from reality. That's not to say we should write just for the sake of writing, hoping an idea will form in the fog of our breath. In fact, I'm not one of those writers who believes in writing every day no matter what. Practice making perfect, as it were. 

No, I prefer the imperfection of an intensely necessary bout of writing that grips your heart like the plague, for that is something I can give my time to. A story worth bleeding for. 

Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451 said: "My stories run up and bite me on the leg. I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off."

I always have ideas running through my brain - things I see or hear about and think to myself "That would make a great book" or "Wow, what a powerful story." But that doesn't mean I'm really going to write about any of those things. 

I figure a story worth telling is one that is begging to be told. Letters From The Ledge was like that. So was Truly (and Finn). 

Truly's story began as an illustration for a non-fiction article I was writing. But for almost a year afterward, her story would bark incessantly at the back of my mind, reminding me it was still there, chained up somewhere in the background of my life. When I finally walked over to it and took the chain off it latched onto me and wouldn't let go. And so I wrote. To the exclusion of almost everything else, I wrote.

There are a lot of stories vying for our attention in life, and we shouldn't necessarily pay attention to all of them. All that does is overwhelm our brains with often useless information and fill our hearts with characters that aren't meant to move our personal stories forward. 

The only stories worth reading are the ones worth keeping, which is why I heartily recommend the 30 pages rule. If I am not genuinely hooked into a story by page 30 I don't even bother finishing it. Life is too short, and there are too many life-changing stories just waiting to be read and experienced.

Find those stories. Consume them. Read. 

And be forever changed...